State Democrats oppose party's plan to punish Florida

08/24/07 Seán Kinane
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Florida’s presidential primary will be held Jan. 29, but the national Democratic Party will vote tomorrow on whether to punish the state for holding the primary so early.

Members of Florida's Democratic congressional delegation sent a letter to National Party Chair Howard Dean on Wednesday threatening a voting rights probe if the party were to strip the state of its presidential primary delegates.

Today, three of those signatories held a conference call to describe their position. U.S. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Alcee Hastings joined Sen. Bill Nelson, who said he is concerned that if the national party takes Florida’s delegates away, it would be guilty of disenfranchising Florida’s Democratic primary voters.

“We are quite concerned that Florida Democrats are going to lose their right to vote. And of all states, we have the sensitivity of this because of what we have gone through, not only in 2000, but the questionable counting of votes and a person’s right to have their vote count and counted as intended was again raised in the 2006 Congressional elections in the Sarasota Congressional district.”

Nelson said that the Florida Democratic Congressional delegation are united in their desire to investigate whether the national party’s action would be a violation of state or federal laws protecting voting rights. Questions exist, though, about whether there really is a protected right to vote in a party’s primary election. Nelson has proposed a compromise to Democratic National Committee, or DNC, Chair Howard Dean. Tampa area U.S. Representative Kathy Castor told WMNF that it involved some other states moving their primaries forward by seven days.

Questions exist, though, about whether there really is a protected right to vote in a party’s primary election. Nelson has proposed a compromise to Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chair Howard Dean.

“Those states, all of whom want to go in front of Florida, their state law allows an administrative officer to move the date of the election. That is not the case in Florida. Florida’s date is set in state law, Jan. 29. The easy solution is to have those states who want to go before Florida to simply move their election earlier seven days. That then would still preserve the sequence.”

But the DNC has suggested that Florida select its delegates through a caucus that would occur much later. Some call this option a beauty contest, because Florida’s Jan. 29 primary would have little importance, but Rep. Alycee Hastings sees it another way.

“I don’t see the counterproposal of the DNC as offering us a beauty contest, I see it as offering us an ugly contest. Because by and large what will have happened at that time is most of the determination as to who our nominee will be will have taken place.”

Nelson thinks there should be rotating regional primaries.

“I have long advocated a system of regional primaries that would rotate. And you would determine the first by a lottery or a flip of a coin and then they would rotate every four years. That seems to be a very sane method. And I will be filing such a bill when we come back in in September.”

The National Democratic Party will vote tomorrow to determine whether to punish Florida for its early primary.


Here is the text of the letter by the Florida Democrats:

August 22, 2007

The Honorable Howard Dean Chairman Democratic National Committee 430 S. Capitol St. SE Washington, DC 20003

Dear Chairman Dean:

It has been our understanding the Democratic National Committee intended to satisfactorily resolve any potential rules problems arising from the decision by several states to move up their 2008 primary dates.

Florida – as directed by the state Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist - advanced its primary to Jan 29. Our goal now is to protect the right of every citizen to vote and to have that vote count.

Yet it was reported just today the DNC still appears poised to assault this basic right. According to ABC News and other news publications, the DNC may sanction Florida if the state’s Democratic Party doesn’t make the new primary a nonbinding straw poll – or in effect, a “meaningless . . . beauty contest.”

If true – and, if the DNC strips Florida of all or some of its delegates to the national convention - we would ask the appropriate legal officials to determine whether this could violate any state or federal laws governing and protecting individual voting rights.

Furthermore, we would recommend to the chairman and leadership of the Florida Democratic Party that they send the party’s entire delegation to the national convention in Denver next year anyway.

It always has been a priority of our party to protect the right of every eligible American to vote. We would hope the DNC will continue to honor this right, when the Rules and Bylaws Committee meets Saturday in Washington.

As has been discussed privately on a couple of previous occasions, there is an easy compromise to resolve this situation: the states with administrative officers legally empowered to do so can move their primaries up seven days from when they were originally planned. This would keep the same sequence and timing for all the states in the presidential selection process.


Sen. Bill Nelson Rep. Alycee L. Hastings Democratic Chair, Florida Congressional Delegation

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz Rep. Kathy Castor Rep. Kendrick Meek

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